If your food-allergic child is going to school for the first time, chances are your biggest concern isn’t getting your child on the right bus. You will be concerned about your child making it through the day safely and avoiding the foods they are allergic to, and rightly so. Until now, you have been there to check labels and regulate the food that your child eats.
I know that scary feeling when you realize that others will have to be responsible for your child’s safety. Careful planning can help put your mind at ease and keep your child safe. Here are a few things to consider as you get ready for the big day:
1. Have the right documents in place. File a food allergy action plan (available from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website) with the school. This form communicates your doctor’s instructions to the school. Also, be aware that Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Actincludes protection for kids with food allergies. If appropriate, you may also want to file a 504 plan with school officials.
2. Have the right medications in place. Bring required medications, including an epi-pen (if your child needs one), to school. If your school allows your child to carry their own epi-pen, get a great epi-pen holder (don’t let it get tossed in a locker or a desk), and teach your child to use it. OneSpot Allergyis a great resource for epi-pen holders and training equipment.
3. Communicate. Meet with your child’s teacher, the school principal, the school nurse, and the food service director at the school, prior to the start of the school year. Chances are your child’s teacher will be the first line of defense. The more he or she understands about how to prevent an allergic reaction, cross contact, and to recognize a reaction, the better off you will be. If you’re lucky enough to be in a school where there is always a nurse on duty, that’s great. If not, make sure there is a plan for quick access to your child’s medication, should they be needed.
4. Collaborate with the officials at your child’s school to come up with the best plan to keep him safe. Will you be sending lunch with your child every day? Is there a special table at lunch for kids with food allergies? What is the food policy in the classroom? Is there a classroom that is snack-free, or can you be notified in advance if food will be served in the classroom? If necessary, is there a specific food (e.g. peanuts) that should not be present in the classroom at all? Resist the urge to place too many restrictions; focus on the ones that are necessary to keep your child safe.
5. Find some special snacks for the lunch box. Every kid going off to school should feel special. Just because she has food allergies doesn’t mean she can’t have great food. It’s easier than ever to find great allergen-free foods off the shelf, including Enjoy Life Foods new crunchy cookies.
6. As your child gets older, teach them to read labels and become their own advocate. The youngest children need to rely on the adults around on them, but by the time they reach middle school, they should be taking on some of the responsibility for their own safety. Teach your child never to share food, never to accept treats that haven’t been approved, and the specific ingredients they need to avoid.
For more information and help with getting prepared for school when your child has food allergies, visit Kids with Food Allergiesand The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Both have terrific resources for parents.
Related material: Off to College with Food Allergies